Look what came in the post!

I got my shinies from Beth today! They actually arrived on Wednesday, but as there was a Customs charge that needed paying the earliest I could get to the sorting office was this morning. I would have posted this earlier, but I had to paint the spare room while there was daylight.

I had a lot of fun opening the parcel, especially when the first thing that hit me was the scent. I can’t describe it very well, it was a mix of flowers but not floral, spicy but no spices that were identifiable, and something almost smokey that wasn’t woodsmoke. Now some of this I knew was from my Freyja cord, as it had been rinsed in amber, cacao, and rosa damascena, but also from a surprise gift from Beth in the form of two sticks of her Queen of Hearts incense – thankies Beth! Even my Yggdrasil beads smelled wonderful, although that’s wearing off now.

I’ve actually got my Yggdrasil beads looped over my wrist as I type this, they’re not heavy but there’s enough weight to make their presence felt and I like how it feels as if they’re trying to bring my hand closer to the earth. The difference between the wood and the glass beads is really noticable as I move my fingers over them; to start with there’s a temperature difference helped along by the slightly cold temperature in my flat, but even when the beads warm up from contact with my skin there’s a very subtle texture difference as well. But the obvious difference is the size of the beads, and even though the 10mm glass ones are larger than on any of my other prayer beads they don’t feel too big, and I find I don’t notice the faceted spacer beads at all touch-wise, but they throw off a lovely sparkle as the chaplet moves, and shine even when it’s sitting on the arm of the sofa (I may have been playing with them constantly while a friend and I watched The Martian this evening). They’re exceptionally well-made, and the only issue I’ve had was one of the wire ends poking out slightly from between two of the beads on the drop leading to the pendant, which probably popped out during transit and was easily fixed with one of my yarn needles.

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Aside from when I was painting or eating, this has lived on my wrist all day. Please try and ignore the hideous mess that is currently my living room.

My Freyja cord is currently hanging off my bedpost, and I love it. The colours are deeper and richer than the photo Beth took was able to show, and I hadn’t realised how much sparkle was in the cord – there’s gold spun into it, and pink, and a pale bluey-purple, and flashes of green. Wherever you look it shimmers, and the cord itself is soft and chunky and squooshy and snugglesome and smells divine. A lot of the reviews I’ve read of Beth’s work talk about the energy that her pieces radiate, and I really wish I could say something similar about my cord (and the beads, which she consecrated to Yggdrasil and Earth for me) but due to me being ridiculously energy-blind I can’t feel any of Freyja’s energies that the cord is infused with, which makes me feel bad for all the work Beth put into it. However, tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, so after putting the next coat of paint up in the spare room I’m planning on spending time meditating in front of my altar with the cord wrapped around me and a Queen of Hearts incense stick burning, which I’m hoping will help. And even though the gold charms and the amber bead don’t weigh much individually the ends of the cords have a definite heft to them, and that plus the knots that the charms are sewn into make the whole thing feel like an object in its own right, as opposed to a gorgeous piece of handspun art yarn.

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Between the gold and the colours and the shimmer I swear it just glows.

From endless browsing of her shop on Etsy I know Beth’s work is amazing, but now I have concrete proof sitting in my hands that she is an excellent jeweller and spinner, and I’ve already got two more of her pieces set up on layaway. And if her Freyja incense smells anything like my cord does then I’ll definitely be ordering some of that as well.

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Lookit the shiny fluffy pretties!

Beth Wodandis beads and cord
My new Yggdrasil prayer beads and Freyja cord. Photos by Beth Wodandis.

Ever since I discovered Beth Wodandis’ blog in August 2015 I’ve also been following her Etsy shop (back when it was called Fyberwytch), which is full of beautiful beadwork, jewellery, fibrecraft, and scented things. Although I’d been browsing for months, and seen many beautiful things that I’d love to have owned, I never bought anything – I never felt that I had enough of a connection to any of the deities or themes Beth had designed the pieces for, and I wasn’t about to buy a necklace essentially because I loved the look of it when someone else who actually had a devotion to Loki or the Wild Hunt or Hera could have it instead. The same held true for the prayer beads and cords, with the addition that with the prayer beads I’d have no idea what prayers to use with them that I wouldn’t just use with a repurposed Dominican rosary, akin to what has been done here. So I browsed, and ooohd, and dreamed of a day when I might be able to justify buying one of her pieces.

And then I did!

I can’t remember when it was listed, but as soon as I saw the Yggdrasil prayer beads made out of wood and sea-glass I fell in love. It was so pretty! But I had no reason to own it, so I clicked on. And yet every week or so I’d end up browsing Beth Wodandis Designs and the beads were still there. I kept looking at the photos, and reading the description, and I kept wanting to buy it, but without that self-justification I just couldn’t. However, by mid-late January I suddenly realised I could justify buying those prayer beads, partly through my own previous actions, and partly through Beth’s words.
Earlier in the month I’d bought myself what’s called a Missionary Rosary off eBay, not because I agree with the reasons behind this rosary version’s introduction (I really don’t), but because of the colours – instead of continents I had four elements and Spirit, and as it was a chain rosary I could easily swap out the Virgin Mary centre and the crucifix with, say, a triquetra and a valknut (I’ve had a fascination with Woden since reading Elfking by Susan Price when I was 11 – it took a couple of years before I got hold of the prequel, Elfgift). Anyway, my newly-dubbed Elemental Rosary arrived in the post, and I spent about two weeks-worth of evenings after work sitting on the sofa reading a book, watching a film, browsing the internet, and running the beads through my fingers. I wasn’t saying prayers, just constantly moving my fingers from one bead to the next, round and round and round. Aside from just enjoying the feel of the beads moving through my fingers, I blame my hobbies – I started knitting a couple of months after I started C17th re-enactment, and I started doing 1640s Living History a few months after that, and when you spend a lot of days sitting around in a Stuart peasant village the habit of having something to do with your hands becomes ingrained – women sitting and gossiping are being idle, and as the saying goes ‘the Devil finds evil things for idle hands to do’. Women sitting and gossiping but also spinning, knitting, or making lucet cord however, are doing useful work and therefore can get away with the sitting and gossiping. So for years now I’ve been used to doing something with my hands while concentrating on other things, so even when I’m not knitting my hands want to be doing something, hence the constant rosary-fiddling.
Anyway, I finally got around to moving the rosary from the living room to my altar space in the bedroom, and it was a week or so afterwards that I realised how I could use the Yggdrasil beads – they’re designed with the World Tree in mind, and trees are very much grounding symbols of Earth, both element and planet. As I said in my previous post I consider myself to have an affinity with the element earth as well as being a very physical person, so having an actual thing to hold and essentially play with would actually fit me quite well. Earth is, after all, the element associated with the body and the material world, and if I bought the beads I’d have a physical reminder of that elemental connection as well as a touchstone to help keep me grounded when I get book-lost, and something to occupy my hands. And yes, I could just grab one of my other sets of prayer beads and use those instead of buying something new, but they’re all prayer beads, with specific prayers or mantras attached; using them for something so secular just didn’t sit right with me (when I was fiddling with it my elemental rosary hadn’t been used to pray with).

I said above that Beth’s words were also a factor in my eventually buying the Yggdrasil beads, and there was one sentence that grabbed me every time I read it and that would stay in my mind: ‘the contrast between the cool glass beads and the warmth of the wood make this set extremely pleasant to hold and use’. For each of her beadwork pieces Beth always lists the stones and beads she uses, along with a decription of their metaphysical properties and some ideas on how to use the object, but I don’t remember seeing a description on any of her other listings of how the item actually felt. I’m a tactile person, and my first ever set of prayer beads were/are an Anglican rosary with wood week beads and onyx cruciform beads, which I deliberately chose for the difference in feel. Now yes, there’s a space around each cruciform bead, the same as the Our Father beads on a Catholic rosary, which is meant to mark the beads out, but I wanted something more than that. The difference in texture between the warm wood and the cool onyx when you’re in a meditative mindset is just lovely, and the thought of having another set of beads with that aspect that I could use more often was so, so appealing.

So much for the beads, what of the cord?

That was a completely unexpected purchase. I’d already bought the Yggdrasil beads, paid for them, shipping address, the lot, but I carried on browsing the shop for a bit as it was getting close to bedtime and I didn’t want to get too engrossed in anything, lose track of time, and wind up getting not enough sleep on a schoolnight. Now I’m a fibrecrafter myself – I knit, crochet, and handspin on a drop spindle, and I think all of Beth’s cords look gorgeous (even the ones where the colourway doesn’t really do it for me). There are a few I’ve been drawn to over the past months, mostly the winter and Yule ones, as that is my time of year – I was born on the Winter Solstice, don’t feel the cold much, and I love the crispness of frosty days, the smell of woodsmoke, warmth of blankets, and the cinnamon-clove-nutmeg-ginger spicy scent of the season. Alas for me, the winter cords are rinsed with peppermint (I abhor mint in all its forms), and even if this wasn’t the case I still had no justification for buying one. So how did I end up with a cord consecrated to Freyja? Which is a question I’m still asking myself.

As I said, I was browsing, I clicked on the listing, and as I read it there were phrases that just seemed to jump out at me – ‘goddess of sex, love, passion, war’, ‘she can teach you the mysteries of … most of all, your own personal worth’, ‘the result is a lush, velvety swirl of wine, pink, cherry, and rose with hints of chatreuse–very indulgent and sensual!’, ‘for connecting with any of Freyja’s aspects, but especially with Her role as goddess of love, sex, passion, romance, … or self worth’. Spotting a theme here? Now I know Freyja is usually described as the Norse goddess of love and sex, but she’s also associated with war and death – sometimes called the leader of the Valkyries, she collects half of those slain in battle, and it is the warrior side of her that has always interested me more. I do Historic European Martial Arts, aka ‘how to actually kill people with a sword’, so there’s a definite link there, but the origin of my interest is something I can again, blame Elfgift for – while the Battle-Woman in the story is called Jarnseaxa and not Freyja, the same themes apply: ‘I chose the slain’ is a common saying of hers. But it was the love and sex aspects that were sticking out, which was unusual for me. And then I got this feeling out of nowhere that simply stated ‘this cord would be good for you’. I don’t know if it was my brain, Freyja, my libido, Sophia (Wisdom, the name I use for the Holy Spirit), or the universe in general, but it was really weird. Now I have no problems with my libido when it’s awake, the issue I have is that it’s very tied into my menstrual cycle, and it isn’t always awake even when my cycle says it’s sexytime – and I’m hoping the cord will help with that in some way. Except that I realised the cord could help with this a minute or so after I got the constant feeling of ‘this would be good for you’, when I was trying to work out why. Like I said, it was weird, and it just wouldn’t go away.

So a couple of hours after I bought the Yggdrasil beads I got in touch with Beth via Etsy convo and asked if it would be possible for me to buy the cord and somehow combine it with the beads I’d already bought so I didn’t have to pay twice for shipping (US to UK = many pennies). Amusingly, my brain refused to let me address her as ‘Beth’, for despite following her blog for months it decided that no, this was a formal request from somene I’ve never met and therefore the formalities should be observed – so Ms. Wodandis it was. *Sigh*
I’d forgotten how big the time difference actually was between England and the west coast of the US until I looked it up, so I was very pleasantly surprised when Beth got back to me within the hour saying yes, no problem, the cord is on hold for you with no shipping charge and it will be sent out with the beads. Yay! I know that small business owners tend to be more friendly and accessible than the customer services in large companies, but even so Beth is so wonderfully friendly and helpful, and I’d recommend shopping at Beth Wodandis Designs just for that.

Now I just have to be patient and wait for my shiny fluffy pretties to arrive…

‘I may have just bought a pentacle’ and other updates

I may have just bought a pentacle with the birthday money my godparents gave me. Somewhat of an ironic statement I know, but still true.

The pentacle is often viewed as one of the quintissential tools used by witches and Pagans, especially Wiccans. It’s used to symbolise the element Earth, is one of the names for a suit in tarot decks, and occasionally appears along with the wand, cup, and blade on the Magician card in the tarot. Because my first exposure to the details of following and practicing a Pagan path were from the Wiccan perspective, when I began incorporating parts of Pagan ritual into my private devotions I started looking around for items to use as my chalice, athame, wand, and pentacle.

Even though I ended up finding suitable implements for the other three, I determined early on that I didn’t want an actual pentacle for my Earth tool. Because I wasn’t abandoning my Christian faith, the idea of owning a pentacle felt too unbalanced towards the Pagan side of things as it is a well-known symbol for Wicca and other neo-pagan faiths. I’d also wanted a finger labyrinth for ages, and as full-size labyrinths can be found marked out in stone and are made to be walked on I felt using a finger labyrinth for an altar pentacle fit nicely with Earth, as well as being found in both pagan antiquity and on the floors of churches and cathedrals.

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My baby Chartres labyrinth.

I was lucky enough on one of my trips to the shop attached to Southwark cathedral to find a resin-cast Chartres finger labyrinth for £20, as all the other finger labyrinths I’d found online were either well out of my budget, or would cost too much to ship to the UK. For the last couple of years my diminutive Chartres labyrinth has sat on my altar, but as it was usually covered with stuff I ended up using it mostly as decoration and hardly ever as a labyrinth, which began to bother me. And then one day I found myself browsing Paul Borda’s website Dryad Designs and saw his small version of the Tree Pentacle, which I fell in love with and ended up using as my WordPress profile picture. To start with, the small size appealed as most of my religious tools are around 10cm long, but the imagery appealed even more.

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And this is why I ultimately decided to purchase an alternative symbol of Earth for my altar – my labyrinth became a glorified religious trinket-holder.

Although the pentacle overlays the tree, both are equally visible and noticeable, and in my mind combine both Christian and Pagan aspects. While the pentacle is generally considered a pagan symbol these days, it has in the past been used as a Christian symbol, notably carried on his shield by  Sir Gawain, often representing the Five Wounds that Jesus recieved while on the cross. The tree ‘represents the cosmic world tree known throughout many cultures & spiritual paths’, probably most well-known of which is the Norse ash tree Yggdrasil. However, the Tree of Life also appears in the Bible in the books of Genesis and Revelation, and in mediaeval popular theology has a lovely link with the ”seed, root, stem, bud, flower, leaf, fruit’ representing the endless cycle of rebirth’ that adorns the edge of Mr. Borda’s plaque. As a mediaeval historian I’ve been exposed to a lot of the mediaeval church’s iconography and orthopraxy, and while I don’t necessarily subscribe to the theology, I love the stories, attitudes, beliefs and myths that came out of the first thousand-odd years of Christianity in Europe. One of my favourites is the story that grew up that the wood used for the cross in the Crucifixion was taken from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil that Adam and Eve ate the fruit of in Eden – thus causing the Fall of Man, leading to sin, suffering, and mankind’s presence on this mortal coil, that we will all eventually shuffle off of. So the tree that mediaeval Christians believed all humankind had been condemned to death for eventually provided wood that gave them the promise of new life and immortality. As the song Adam Lay Ibounden says – in an interesting reversal of the usual attitude – if the apple hadn’t been taken by Adam then Christians would have had no need of the redemption offered by the coming of Jesus, one of the few examples of the Fall being seen in a positive ‘if we hadn’t had to endure suffering as a result of Adam’s actions then we wouldn’t be able to rejoice as much as we do now’ way rather than the negative ‘humans screwed up so Jesus had to fix it’ attitude that is still a large part of Christian, especially Catholic, doctrine. Seed, bud, flower, fruit – if the fruit doesn’t ripen, fall from the tree and rot, the seeds don’t get released into the earth and can’t germinate into new life.

Considering what I’ve just written, one might ask why I didn’t just buy a Tree of Life plaque to use instead of my labyrinth, rather than buy one with a superimposed pentacle. After all, a Google image search for ‘tree of life plaque’ reveals some utterly gorgeous items, some of which I’d love to have hanging on my walls. Hovever, having spent eight years reading tarot cards I find the pentacle has slowly cemented itself in my mind as a symbol for the earthy suit in the deck, meaning I now see it as both an Earth symbol as well as a Pagan one, and I personally also view it as a symbol for the Web of Wyrd, with every part connected to every other. In addition, Paul Borda’s work, when cast in resin, has the feel and weight of stone but the look of wood as the grain from the original sculptures is still very visible. Stone and wood, mineral and organic, both products of the earth, and both used in prehistoric henges – stone for the dead and wood for the living. So partly symbolic reasons, partly aesthetic.

As for the other updates, I now have a permanent contract (for the first time in my career), have applied for a specialist role at work, hosted the first social event in my flat for my birthday, spent my actual birthday watching the sun rise at Avebury on the Solstice, and finally got around to setting up the bookshelves and my altar in my flat. I’ve also got plans to try and get myself to post here regularly and more often. Progress!